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MSU Event Aims To Boost Tech-Based Entrepreneurship

EAST LANSING (WWJ) -- More than 150 economic development officials and dozens of inventors, entrepreneurs and makers gathered in East Lansing Wednesday for the Innovate Michigan Summit.

The event was sponsored by the MSU University Center for Regional Economic Innovation.

The breakout sessions at the summit ranged from the scientific to the practical to the whimsical -- from a study of economic development gaps preventing more tech-based entrepreneurship in the western Upper Peninsula to a theatrical production called "State of Emergency" composed of actual statements from Flint residents and the city's emergency managers.

Other breakouts explored green entrepreneurship, youth-based tech entrepreneurship in Detroit, skills and training gaps, navigating the business permit process in Detroit and more.

In one session, East Lansing library officials Cristina Benton, Lori Mullins and Kristin Shelley discussed their plans for maker spaces for inventors to try out their ideas. The library is already offering code camps, programs with Lansing's Impression 5 museum and a digital lab.

There are also maker spaces at Michigan State University, Lansing Community College and Mott Community College.

Also, Phillip Olla of Madonna University described his MSU-funded study on the resources available to young Detroiters to start up technology businesses.

Olla said young people are strongly attracted to entrepreneurship because of its potential for independence and earnings. Olla said he was "very shocked" to find that "there is a lot out there for young people in Detroit," from Bizdom U to TechTown to the Detroit Creative Corridor, providing space, mentorship, training, funding and more.

But gaining admittance to an organization is a requirement for all these programs -- Olla said little is available to drop-in users, except for open pitch nights at some organizations, "which I just love," Olla said.

At lunch, the Rev. Barry T. Randolph of the Church of the Messiah on Detroit's east side gave a rousing keynote presentation about how he's used entrepreneurship to build up his congregation. The effort started with a chance meeting with the operator of a mobile maker lab.

Now, the church is attracting hundreds of new congregants, including many young men, and has spawned several businesses. Bringing in screen printing equipment led to the formation of Basic Black T-Shirt and Design. There's also a bike shop, a lawn mower repair operation, a landscaping business, a bicycle shop, the Mt. Elliott Music Studio and Zula Mae's Cookies and Sweets.

The church now also has a nonprofit housing corporation and is involved in urban farming on vacant lots in the area.

Held in conjunction with Innovate Michigan was the Michigan Inventors Expo '13, a daylong event sponsored by the Michigan Inventors Coalition.

This event featured a day-long program of speeches on invention and intellectual property. And it ended with a rousing pitch competition between inventors that included a mobility cart for amputees called the Solus and a picture hanging contraption called the Picture Stick (

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